A Question of Pride(6)

By: Michelle Reid

She had worked for him for a month before Max asked her out. And then it had been a classic case of the boss asking the secretary to work late, then offering her dinner to recompense. The next time, the dinner was offered without any back-up excuse.

He was attractive, breathtakingly sophisticated, and possessed a charm—when he decided to turn it on—that was all but impossible to combat. In fact, she thought now as she looked back on that time, Max had turned her head without even having to work at it much. He didn't even bother to wrap his proposition up in fancy words. He just told her, over dinner one evening, that he wanted to be her lover, then waited casually for her reply.

She found some comfort now in remembering that she'd had the strength to turn him down that first time.

But his answering laugh had been mocking, as if he had been sure of his own power over her. He had known, even while she was refusing him in her cool, off-handed way, that he would win in the end.

He'd discovered her innocence only when it was too late to draw back. She had been too shy to tell him, and yes, too afraid of losing him if she did tell him. He had been furious at first, then rather pleased; then so smug that it had been aggravating.

'I've never made love to a virgin before,' he'd whispered, then set about teaching her all he knew, making her into the woman he'd wanted her to be, conditioning her until the shy young girl was gone for ever.

And she'd let him, because she loved him, and she'd known, even then, that her complete acquiescence to his wants was the only way she would keep him.

He might not love her in return, but he made her feel beautiful and infinitely desirable. And sometimes his loving would move on to a plane beyond the physical norm. He would worship her, pay homage to every single inch of her, until she could only lie boneless, barely breathing amid the clouds of sensation he was arousing in her. It was at these times that she could convince herself that he loved her, because in the giving of so much Max would become lost himself. Their bodies moved to a rhythm of their own creation, and he would tremble, that big, dark being who so enveloped her, he would tremble in her arms and be hers, for those few precious moments, completely hers. It would shake him, though. Max never liked what overtook him at those times, and in the aftermath he would grow morose—angry, almost. He never remarked on it, but she knew; he hated losing control to such a degree, because in doing so he was revealing a desperate need for her. Clea had a suspicion that Max had rarely—if ever—experienced such a depth of emotion with any other woman, and it frightened him, made him feel threatened by what could develop between them. After a night like that he would draw back a little, become remote and unreachable and maybe not come near her for days.

Last night had been one of those times. That was what made his gesture in her office earlier all the more confusing, because he had come forwards when usually he would be backing off. He had acted very much out of character, and it confused her—bothered her at a time when she was confused and bothered enough.

It was dark outside now, the street lights turning everything a dull gold colour. Hardly anyone seemed to be moving down on the ground now, and once again the feeling of being very much alone assailed her.

She took a deep gulp at the whisky, then grimaced at the bitter taste. She didn't even like the stuff, yet she had felt the need for some kind of bolster—still did, for her nerves were screaming for release. Pain, fear, depression, and a thousand other emotions were vying for domination, while she stood, as outwardly calm as she always appeared.

Thank God for self-control! Clea mocked herself bitterly, then scorned herself for the self-deception.

She wasn't in control, she was in shock.

A pale hand drifted to the flat of her stomach, and Clea looked down at it, her slender fingers spread out across the dark cloth of her tailored skirt. How long would she remain like this—slim, neat-figured? Not long; she was already in her second month of pregnancy. Her condition would begin to show soon.

Max had planted a seed inside her, and it was going to grow into a baby, a beautiful, dark-haired, blue-eyed baby. She trembled at the sudden and unexpected jolt of emotion that gave her. A baby ...

hers and Max's baby ... Abortion was out! she decided, with a fierceness that yet again surprised her.

Marriage to Max was out. She took another gulp of whisky.

And her job. That was going to have to go. She couldn't stay here now, not without losing her pride.

Max would hate it if he had to see her every day, growing big with his child, her figure—the body that was all that kept him coming back to her—becoming distorted and unattractive. No, she couldn't remain working here.

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